Just in time for (next) Halloween, you can own part of Elvira’s spooky legacy
Everyone’s favorite “Mistress of the Dark” is back, right on time for Halloween.
Julien’s Auctions announced Thursday morning that it will be selling property from the collection of Elvira, the wisecracking horror hostess who rose to fame on L.A.'s TV airwaves in the early 1980s.
In October of next year, Julien’s will auction off memorabilia from the pop-culture icon, played to campy perfection by actress Cassandra Peterson, including her signature black gown, props and costumes from her TV series and films. The auction will take place online, as well as at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills.
Peterson, 69, talked to The Times about her favorite items for sale, her status as a gay icon and how she’ll be celebrating Halloween during the pandemic.
What’s your favorite item up for auction?
Oh, my gosh, I’d have to say my desk. I’m kind of sad to get rid of my desk. I’ve had it for so many years. I used it when I was working on [the 1988 film] “Mistress of the Dark,” I used it when I was doing “Haunted Hills” and everything in between. And I have carted that desk … around for years and years from house to house to house, at least 40 years.
It was a gift from my in-laws. And I love it so much. It’s a really, really cool, dark, German carved desk. I’m sad to see it go. … [There’s] a lot of sentimental value for me in that desk. It’s something I had to go back and forth in my brain to see if I really wanted to give it up.
What items might be especially popular with fans?
I think another item that people are really gonna love and get a gigantic laugh out of is my script for “Mistress of the Dark.” Because it was the original one. I have a lot of scripts but this is the one I carted around and made a lot of notes in. There’s quite a bit of several scenes that are not the same, that we changed after the script. So I think it’ll be really, really fun for a fan of that movie to see these different scenes that we didn’t get to put into the final film.
You co-wrote “Mistress of the Dark,” right?
Oh, yeah. I wrote it with my two writing partners: my one writing partner of 21 years, John Paragon, and another good friend of mine, Sam Egan, who was a writer at NBC on many television shows. … I’ve been writing forever. But I started by writing “Movie Macabre,” the TV show I did where I hosted horror movies [originally on L.A.'s KHJ-TV, now KCAL-TV]. I don’t know if you can call it writing so much but I was in the Groundlings [improv troupe] for 4 ½ years. And everybody had to write their own material,
Then I segued into writing “Movie Macabre,” and then eventually writing this movie and the next. I’ve written three books with John Paragon that were a young-adult book series. And then I wrote my autobiography recently, which was completely me on my own. I just want people to know: no ghostwriting, no nothing. I personally love autobiographies when they’re in the voice of the person who’s writing it.
People don’t realize as much that you’re a writer and comedian. Would you consider the Elvira character a comedian too?
I positively consider the character to be a comedian. I mean, the horror aspect of it is very important. And I have always loved horror. … I started out as a dancer, then a singer, then eventually doing comedy. And then ended up in the Groundlings and decided, “I just want to do comedy.”
So when the Elvira thing came along, I wasn’t sure if they wanted comedy. They might have been thinking of a more, you know, “Come in, darling, drink a glass of blood,” that kind of vibe. But I did a little improvised sketch, I kind of riffed on the script they gave me. And they loved it. They said, “Oh, so interesting. We could make this funny and sexy and spooky.” And the three things together really teamed up to make a very unique character.
You once remarked that you were “raised by a pack of wild drag queens.” What impact did drag culture have on Elvira, and vice versa?
Gay men have had so much influence on my life, starting probably when I was in high school. I was in drama class, and I didn’t realize all the guys were gay [laughs] until many years later. But I just gravitated toward gay men. Actually, when I was 14 or 15 … I was a teenage drag queen. I actually worked in a drag nightclub. And when one of the guys didn’t show up one night for one of the acts, I stood in for him. And people thought I was the most amazing drag queen ever — they couldn’t believe I looked so much like a woman.
And then I went on to form an act with seven gay men and myself, called Mama’s Boys. And for several years, we toured the country. And they were like my best friends, my brothers, everything to me. We were so close. And they influenced me tremendously. Even right down to one of them — who was my very best friend — helping design the Elvira costume. He and I really talked about how it should look. He was an artist, and he drew up the sketch, and he came up with that hairdo, the makeup. We both decided to make the dress as sexy as possible.
Would you consider yourself a gay icon?
I don’t want to brag, but I definitely would consider myself a gay icon. I have a huge, huge gay following. It seems like the gay audience loves these strong female types. These “we don’t take any BS” kind of women like Cher, Madonna, Bette Midler and, oh my gosh, Lady Gaga, of course. But I think Elvira fits that mold as well. She’s a strong, kicks-butt, takes-no-prisoners kind of woman.
How do you typically celebrate Halloween? And how are you celebrating it this year given COVID?
Well, yeah, this year is very, very different. I have never, ever been home on a Halloween night in 40 years. And it’s a bummer: I’m like, “Oh, yay, finally I’m gonna have trick-or-treaters come to my door.” And then all of a sudden: “Oh, wait a minute. No, I can’t.” So I’m celebrating Halloween by working, as I usually do. Only it will all be virtual.. On Friday night, I’m hosting Hocus Pocus Hulaween with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy and, you’re not gonna believe it, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Sarah Silverman. It’s just an amazing lineup of stars.
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